tenstringguitar. info "Music is the space between the notes." 
 
 

 

Segovia's Deceit? Or Lack of Comprehension?


(what guitarists need to know about the musical necessity, and systematic suppression, of the ten-string guitar)



Narciso Yepes: "In the first place, the four supplementary strings [C, Bb, G#, F#] give [the ten-string guitar] a balanced sound which the six-string guitar is far from having. In fact, at the moment of playing a note on one string, another begins to vibrate by sympathetic resonance. On the six-string guitar this phenomenon is produced only on four notes, while on mine the twelve notes of the scale each have their sympathetic resonance. Thus the lopsided sonority of the six-string guitar is transformed into a wider and equal sonority on a ten-string guitar." (1973)

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Robert Donington: "The most important element after tempo [...] is shaping the line. [...] The first stage in shaping the line is to sustain the flow of sound with no increasing, no diminishing and no interruption which is not meaningful. The second stage is to inflect the flow of the sound with phrasing, articulation, and dynamic, rhythmic or other modifications which mould it into meaningful patterns. Some of this moulding is intuitive and some of it is deliberate, but all of it depends on the sound first being just reliably there, and not distorted by meaningless fluctuations. That may well be what Couperin had in mind when he wrote in 1716 of the harpsichord that 'it is necessary to sustain a perfect smoothness'; and J. S. Bach also, when he called his Inventions of 1723 'an honest guide . . . to acquire a cantabile style of playing'. Not because smoothness is the only requisite; but because it provides the acoustic substance which can then be separated into [meaningful] patterns." (1982, 'Baroque Music: Style and Performance', p. 29)

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Andres Segovia to Jose Ramirez III:
"[T]here are two notes on the first string [of my guitar] that do not have the same intensity as the others. I would like you to repair it for me." (Ramirez III, 'Things About the Guitar', p. 199)

Ramirez III:
"However, it was not within my grasp to repair the weaker  notes". (ibid.)

'I explained all this to the Maestro, who listened patiently, but with an expression on his face which denoted that my long-winded speech went in one ear and out the other. He refused to enter into technical matters and only wanted to see results. For a great number of years (and this is backed up by my correspondence with him), I had to bear my cross because of the cursed ["muffled"] notes . . . To him, a "muffled" note (this is what he called it), could not be corrected, since it is part of the nature of the instrument. I am absolutely sure that the ["muffled"] notes on his Hauser had always been there from the beginning because this is the way they always behave. What happened was that in his advancement towards perfectionism and the intensification of his extraordinary sensitivity, the moment came when these notes were made unbearably patent to him.' (ibid., p. 200)

"Time passed by uneventfully for a number of years, sprinkled only by the Maestro's f requent letters in which the famous ['muffled'] notes were always mentioned. In one of his letters he told me that he had had to substitute or cancel a specific musical piece from one of his programs because the note that he had to emphasize coincided with one of the mortifying ['muffled'] notes which I was wracking my brains to eliminate, conscious of the fact that no [luthier] had ever succeeded in doing so." (ibid., p. 208)

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"An obsession with achieving an enriched sound in the guitar led me to study an old, obsolete instrument: the viola d'amore, which has a very interesting feature. There are as many strings on the inside of this viola as there are on the outside, which are the ones that are played. The inner strings vibrate sympathetically and, together with the outer ones, produce a loud harmonious sound." (Ramirez III, 'Things About the Guitar', p. 137)

"I made a guitar with two bridges: the normal outer one and another inner one where the six inside strings were attached, to be tuned just as the outer strings." (ibid.)

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Yepes: "Many people have said to me that this [the ten-string guitar] is the same principle as that used for the viola d'amore ... with seven strings that were mounted underneath the normal ones and vibrated in sympathy. But there was a problem with that instrument: The tuning - of both the bowed strings above and the sympathetic strings below - was D, A, F, D, A, F, D ... Thus when you played a D you had not only the sound of that one string, but also the sound of all the other [sympathetic overtone] D's on the instrument, so you had a very big D ! But, when you played G , for example, you had absolutely nothing in the way of resonance. My idea of the 10-string guitar is exactly the contrary - to provide sympathetic vibration for the notes that do not have this kind of reinforcement on a normal 6-string guitar." (1978. "The Ten-String Guitar: Overcoming the Limitations of Six Strings". Interviewed by L. Snitzler. Guitar Player 12, p. 46.)

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Yepes to Ramirez III:
"Forget the inner strings. If you add four strings to the six normal strings, all on the outside, and these four strings are tuned in a certain way for which I have made a study, we will have the same resonant and harmonic supports [for all twelve notes of the octave]". (Ramirez III, 'Things About the Guitar', p. 140)

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Yepes: "My reasons [for designing the new ten-string guitar] were purely musical, and the first of them was that the guitar was not properly balanced. There was no equilibrium, because of the 12 notes of the scale, only four - E, A, B, D - had any resonance. If you play one of those notes [fretted on a treble string] and then stop [i.e. dampen] the string with your [right hand] finger, you will hear the sound lingering [as resonance on an open bass string]. But if you play one of the other eight notes of the scale, the sound dies immediately. On the 10-string guitar [with the standard tuning], I have resonance on all 12 notes." (Kozinn, A. 1981. 'Narciso Yepes and His 10-String Guitar'. The New York Times, Nov. 22: p. D21-22.)

(This experiment makes it easier to detect which notes are "muffled" - without sympathetic strings - and which are naturally richer in sonority.)

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Yet Segovia attacked without displaying any comprehension, only malice: "The only thing that this 10-string monstrosity accomplishes is to transform the guitar from a voluptuous femme into a matronly hausfrau." (quoted in: 'Narciso Yepes' [Obituary] The Times [London (UK)] 19 May 1997: 23.)

Segovia: "The inventors of this futile addition in sonority are far from having exhausted the natural resources of the instrument." (A polemic 'Letter', published in Guitar Review no. 39, New York, Summer 1974.)

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Yepes: "The first criticism [of the ten-string guitar] was from Segovia, before he had seen or even heard the instrument, soon after Ramirez made the ten-string guitar." (quoted in: 'An Interview with Narciso Yepes in Cabo-Roig, Alicante - Spain on 7 July 1987,' reproduced as Appendix C in Fred Kazandjian, 'The Concept and Development of the Yepes Ten-String Guitar: A Preliminary Investigation', M.Mus. thesis, University of Cape Town, 1992, p. 234.)

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Unprejudiced auditors who heard Yepes in concert, however, witnessed more than a "futile" improvement, as this 1982 review shows: "Guitar concerts in Carnegie Hall can be a frustrating affair. Narciso Yepes brought his 10-string invention there last Thursday, and suddenly it was not a problem hearing that instrument in that space. His guitar fills the hall with sound. The musician who plucks it is one of the finest in the world today. ... One left his recital stimulated and elated, with nary a thought as to the potential limitations of the instrument, dynamically or musically." ( 1982)


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